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By Donn Randall, Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Program Manager

On a family trip to South Dakota over the 4th of July weekend, I had plenty of windshield time to evaluate crop conditions, livestock, farm landscaping and the general agricultural economic conditions.

It is easy to see the major agronomic crops once you’re east of North Platte, Neb., as more and more corn and soybean fields from the east line the road. As a tourist entering Wyoming on I-80 from the east, determining the dominant agronomic crop becomes somewhat of a challenge for the average passing motorist. In fact, if I were to ask some of our Wyoming residents what the number one agronomic crop in Wyoming is, I bet I could get at least six different answers from six different people.
So, what is Wyoming’s number one agronomic crop? Some people may say barley, corn, wheat or even sugar beets, and all would be incorrect. The number one agronomic crop in Wyoming, generating $271 million dollars in valued assets in 2009, according to the 2010 Wyoming Agricultural Statistics report, was hay. The second agronomic valued crop was barley, which generated one-sixth the revenue of hay.

What makes Wyoming hay so valuable, and how can producers maximize their marketing potential for additional hay production? Without a doubt, Wyoming has a very unique, valuable alfalfa crop compared to all Midwestern states. The hay nutritional values are so much higher here than in other states, due largely to a combination of Wyoming’s elevation and cooler nights, which allow the alfalfa plants to actually rest at night, reducing the concentration of minerals in the stems. To some this may seem a disadvantage, but from a livestock feeding standpoint, it allows the entire plant to contain much higher crude protein (CP), relative feed value (RFV) and total digestibility (TDN). In other words, pound-for-pound, Wyoming hay provides more nutrients to the animals than any other hay. It is not uncommon to have Wyoming alfalfa hay test at 23 percent CP, well above 230 RFV and have a TDN percentage in the high 60s to low 70s. These three analytical values are what potential hay buyers are most interested in when discussing potential hay purchased from Wyoming producers. This is also why Wyoming hay producers do so well at the World Dairy Expo Forage Super Bowl Challenge every year.

So, if Wyoming hay provides much more nutrients to livestock, why are Wyoming producers not selling more to out-of-state markets? The answers to this question are based upon marketing exposure, transportation costs and putting the hay in the correct package so that it can be easily transported to the buyer.

To begin with, marketing Wyoming hay is based entirely on establishing a positive and trusting relationship between the producer and buyer. Hay is an agricultural commodity that is not sold according to specified USDA commodity standards and cannot be bought or sold on any futures contracts. Wyoming producers could increase their marketing exposure by participating in their local county fair hay show, and then sending the same sample to the Wyoming State Fair Hay Show. The top five highest RFV alfalfa samples are then entered in the World Dairy Expo Forage Super Bowl Challenge in Madison, Wis. This is an international show that offers an opportunity for hundreds of people from around the world to see, smell, touch and even taste Wyoming premium hay.  All of the samples from the Wyoming State Fair hay show are on display at the World Dairy Expo in the Wyoming premium trade show hay tent. An additional international hay show is the newly established forage challenge contest at the World Ag Trade Show in Tulare, Calif. during the first week of February.

Wyoming producers who have additional hay to sell need to realize their hay must be cut and baled at the most optimum time with excellent leaf capture and then must be analyzed. In addition to these very important criteria, the hay must be processed in the correct type of package. Unfortunately, export buyers do not accept large round bales, and most truck drivers refuse to haul large round bales out-of-state due to over-width issues and requirements for additional expensive permits to haul these bales. A three-foot by four-foot large bale can be loaded either on a flat bed or into a covered van trailer very easily. Even though a large square baler may initially cost more than a large round baler, the returns to the producer can be realized within three to four years. A Big Horn Basin hay producer said he can get a premium of up to $40 per ton from the sale of his three-by-four-foot square bales as compared to his round bales. At that rate, a producer could generate up to an additional $62,000 in sales over three years if the hay is processed through a large square baler.

The future market trends for U.S. hay prices also look as though they will continue to strengthen in the coming months. Several fundamental marketing trends may add strength to the hay market. These trends are: 1) many acres of alfalfa were plowed up and planted to corn this past spring, 2) dairy futures CME prices of Class III milk is currently at $20.60/cwt, 3) demand from export sales have seen an increase from last year at 22 percent, and 4) given the extreme drought and poor hay cropping conditions in the southern U.S., the demand for additional forage will create price movement for Western hay.  

For additional information or assistance with marketing Wyoming hay, contact Donn Randall, Wyoming Business Council Crop and Forage Program Manager at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 307-777-6578.

By Rick L. Peterson, State Rangeland Management Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service

The old adage of “take half, leave half” is still alive and well, but how does it really apply? Many factors influence the growth of plants, and those that have the greatest effect on annual production on rangeland ecosystems, such as precipitation, temperature, topography and soil texture, depth, and fertility are all outside of the land manger’s control.

The only aspect that we can control on native rangeland is the amount of leaf area removed by grazers, and conversely, the leaf area remaining after the grazers have moved on.

We all know that, for plants to grow, they must have adequate leaf area to collect the solar energy needed to fuel their physiological processes. A grass plant, in general, produces twice the amount of leaf area it will need to complete growth, reproduce and remain healthy and vigorous, hence the idea of taking half for grazing but leaving half for the plant. Still, sustainable use of forage resources requires a little more forethought and planning.

Timing of grazing has a tremendous effect on the grasses’ ability to re-grow. Grasses have the greatest tolerance for grazing early in the growing season while still in the vegetative state. When grazed early, grasses can take advantage of available soil moisture, ramping up vegetative growth to replace what was lost. But before long, the grass plants’ stems or tillers will begin to elongate. As their growing points are elevated, the potential for damage by grazing increases. If the growing point is removed, the plant tiller will essentially stop growing, and any additional tiller growth must arise from dormant buds located at the base of the plant crown.

The effect of grazing with regard to the location of growing points is illustrated in the photograph.

The wheatgrass tiller on the left in the photo was grazed above the growing point and continued to grow after the grazing event. The tiller on the right was grazed below the growing point; all post-grazing re-growth has stopped and any additional growth must arise from axillary buds at the base of the stem below the soil surface. It would take time and extra energy for this plant to recover from grazing.

As you know, all grasses are not created equal; some are much more resistant to grazing than others. Take, for example, blue grama and bluebunch wheatgrass. Both are classified as bunchgrasses, having a growth habit in which tillers emerge from growing points along the stem at or near the soil surface. However, bluebunch elevates its growing points, making them susceptible to removal by grazing. Blue grama’s growing points remain close to the ground and are protected from grazing. Plants with this advantage have greater resistance to grazing pressure and tend to increase in a grazing system. Bluebunch wheatgrass, being more susceptible to damage and therefore less resistant to grazing pressure, will decrease. Over time, a shift in species composition of the plant community can result.  

Another reason to follow the “take half, leave half” rule is the effect of grazing on root growth. To remain healthy and vigorous, a grass plant must replace between 20 and 50 percent of its root mass annually. Light to moderate grazing (50 percent or less) has a moderate to no adverse effect on new root growth. Once grazing levels reach 60 percent by weight, root growth is decreased by half. This can last from a few days to a couple weeks. When leaf removal reaches 80 percent, all root growth stops. If plants are over-utilized year after year, their ability to regenerate root material will be compromised; they’ll lose vigor and will be unable to hold their place in the plant community.

Healthy plant communities in general are closed, where all of the available space is occupied both above ground and below. These communities are resistant to the invasion of weeds and other undesirable plants species. If a plant community is continually over grazed it will become open and weedy species will invade. Further decline may cause the plant community to cross a threshold, becoming dominated by weedy species. From an ecological standpoint, a threshold is very difficult to re-cross. Once a plant community has crossed over to a new steady state, it is unlikely to go back to what it was without significant inputs of resources and energy invested over a long period of time.

There are three key concepts to grazing management that will help to maintain adequate leaf area and preserve the health and vigor of your forage resources. They are: intensity (the amount of leaf area removed), frequency (the number of times a plant is grazed) and timing (the season of use). The duration or length of time a given number of animals grazes an area greatly influences grazing intensity and frequency.

Season-long grazing systems can be very efficient. However, these tend to create scenarios where a pasture can be under-stocked yet overgrazed. This happens because the intensity and frequency of grazing is targeted to a few grass species. Over time, those preferred species can be greatly reduced, or even removed, from the plant community. The optimal grazing system involves a rotation among several pastures; this allows the utilization of available forage and provides adequate time for re-growth of leaf material before the next grazing event. A built-in deferment period during the growing season will give plants a chance to recover, reproduce and remain healthy and competitive.

Maintaining strong, healthy plant communities on our rangelands becomes even more important as cheatgrass increases across the landscape. Cheatgrass is most likely already a component in the plant communities on your ranch. This is something we all have to recognize.  The key now is to manage our forage resources in a way that ensures their continued productivity and ability to resist conversion to cheatgrass dominated communities. Remember: take half, but leave half.

By Leanne Stevenson, Natural Resources and Policy Division, Wyoming Department of Agriculture

As I sat in the legislative committee meetings during the legislative session, I listened to the continuing saga of bark beetle infestations in our forests. There is a loud public outcry asking: “What can we do about these dead trees?”

As a result of discussions and the need for urgency to address this issue in the state, Senate Enrolled Joint Resolution 0004 was signed, supporting continued efforts to combat the bark beetle infestation. So here we sit, looking back, asking what happened and what we can do to get the timber industry back in Wyoming. As I sat there, I started reflecting on my perception of what happened to the timber industry, and what we can learn from the mistakes we made leading up to where we are today.

At one time during the rich history of Wyoming, the timber and agriculture industries were sustainable, thriving and crucial to Wyoming’s rural economy. These industries were the lifeblood of many communities.

As time passed, the timber industry saw more regulations, more litigation and additional limits on the tools available for managing forests. Each one individually didn’t seem that bad, but the combination of restrictions and lack of proactive actions led to the demise of an industry, the lack of active forest management and the eventual situation we face today. Today, the industry is non-existent in most of the state, with the only remaining sawmill in the northeast corner of.
As I see it, there are many similarities in the two industries – timber and agriculture. They both rely on natural resources in ecosystems under heavy scrutiny by those who want to save everything except the industries that put a roof over our head and food in our stomach. In many ways, I believe the agriculture industry is facing the same situation the timber industry faced the last 30-plus years – more regulations, more litigation and more restrictions on proactive management to the point of unintended consequences. I just hope the agriculture industry doesn’t have to be crippled to an equivalent state of existence before we take a firmer stance. I don’t want to look back 20 or 30 years from now, asking, “How can we get our agriculture industry back in Wyoming?”

I know the saying “hindsight is 20-20,” but aren’t we also supposed to “learn from our mistakes?” Ok, then. The mistake we see looking back is that, since our ecosystems are heavily influenced by humans (and, by the way, there is nothing within our scope of human control that allows us to remove the human influence on ecosystems), we need to maintain industries that provide food and fiber for the world because it is much harder to bring them back once they are gone. We can’t change the past, but we can influence the future.

I firmly believe we are capable of sustaining the agriculture industry in our great state. The combination of knowledge and determination of those in the agriculture industry, Wyoming’s citizens and the state’s great leaders are a wealth of resources and the full force in utilizing these resources is yet to be seen.

The adversarial regulations and litigation in the agriculture industry are more prevalent than ever. Those of us who work in the “agriculture policy” world are doing the best we can to address the issues, but we need each of you to join in the battle and act as reinforcements to strengthen the effort. Remember another saying: “strength in numbers.”

There are many things each of us as individuals can and should do to protect an industry critical to our local communities, state, country and world. Let’s work together to fight smarter, not harder. Each person doing a little can make a difference.

If we all take a stand in the fight to keep agriculture sustainable, we won’t have to look back and ask what happened with the demise of the agriculture industry in Wyoming. Let’s learn from our mistakes, fight to maintain proactive agriculture management practices and maintain this vital industry. Don’t wait until it is too late to protect the agriculture industry. Let’s learn from our mistakes and influence the future.

    From the heights of the Wind Rivers to the expanses of the High Plains, Wyoming ranchers continue to produce not only high quality livestock, but also conservation. Sand County Foundation, through its Leopold Conservation Award, strives to highlight the conservation efforts put forth by leading agricultural producers across the country. All too often ranchers and farmers are criticized as abusers of the land rather than praised as conservationists who continually seek to make conservation improvements.
    Private landowners combine environmental sustainability with economic success.  They are the engines that drive modern conservation improvement. There is no shortage of these landowners in Wyoming, which makes us excited and proud to be heading into a fourth consecutive, successful year in our partnership with EnCana Oil & Gas USA and Wyoming Stock Growers Association as part of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program.  We present the Leopold Conservation Award to Wyoming individuals and families who demonstrate enduring and outstanding conservation leadership. These people have made decisions, often difficult, to incorporate conservation into their operations out of their own personal sense of right and wrong.  
    Aldo Leopold wrote, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” He believed that farmers and ranchers were best suited to understand how to nurture the land that gives so much back to them. His perspective is as important today as it was during the 1930s and 1940s. Agricultural lands are in danger of encroaching development and need to be managed for profit and conservation achievement. One simply needs to look at the three previous winners of the Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming to realize that improvements to grassland, water quality and wildlife habitat can, indeed, go hand in hand with a successful ranching business. These agricultural producers are a credit to themselves and a lesson to be learned elsewhere in the state and nation.
    The 2006 Wyoming winner, Barlow Livestock Inc., is a family owned and operated ranch located 20 miles west of Gillette. It was started in 1898 by L.H. Barlow. Barlow Livestock Inc. is owned by Glenn and Joy Barlow, who operate the ranch with Glenn’s mother, Gertrude, and their children, Duce and Trey.
     The Barlow family believes in carrying out ranch tasks in a manner that suits and complements the surrounding environment. They implement stewardship practices such as matching the genetics of their cattle to the environment in which they live in order to utilize natural forage.  They employ a cell grazing and water pipeline system to lower the risk of overgrazing.
    Paul and Catherine Kukowski’s Golden Willow Ranch near Sheridan won the Wyoming award in 2007. The Kukowskis’ many conservation practices keep their operation economically and environmentally sustainable. One major project was installation of a water delivery system. This allowed a change in livestock grazing patterns, which enabled them to withstand drought conditions without drastically reducing herd size. As a consequence, native plant life, riparian areas, and wildlife habitat were all seen to improve. Their ranch now shows growing populations of mule deer, pronghorn, elk, and many kinds of birds.
    This year’s winner, Norm and Barbara Pape, along with their sons Fred and David and their families of Pape Ranches, near Daniel, emphasize grazing management and manipulate sagebrush to increase forage production for cattle and wildlife. The family also uses fencing to maintain naturally occurring windbreaks.  And to allow for the passage of wildlife, the Papes participate in a program with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and Wyoming Department of Transportation to install wildlife friendly fencing along U.S. Highway 191.
    This year’s Leopold Conservation Award winner, Rocky and Nancy Foy and their family’s Foy Ranch, near Glendo, are conservation pioneers, always looking for ways to better utilize the resources available to them as well as leave the ranch in better condition for the next generation. For example, the Foys implemented an effective grazing plan that maximizes carbon storage and results in tradable carbon credits. They provided critical leadership in the formation of the Glendo Wind Energy Association to harness clean power while preserving open space. And they were among the first to use goat power to help manage increasing brush cover. In addition to sound conservation, these projects have helped sustain the ranching operations economically, as well.
     The Barlows, Kukowskis, Papes and Foys have a lot in common. They believe that conservation plays a vital role in agriculture. They have a deep sense of responsibility to take care of the land to the best of their abilities. They also are leaders in their respective communities and are committed to agricultural education. So, how can this responsible approach to agriculture be expanded? One major part of the answer is communication. Landowners must have the ability to freely exchange ideas with one another. Sand County Foundation is working to make this possible through our award program.
    Since its inception in 2003, 24 families have won the Leopold Conservation Award in seven states: California, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. We believe that one of the most critical outcomes of the Leopold Conservation Award is that it gives landowners a forum to discuss conservation and agricultural issues within their respective states. In October of this year we expanded to a nationwide approach.
    Sand County Foundation brought together eleven Leopold Conservation Award winning families, including Paul and Catherine Kukowski, for the “Generations on the Land” landowner symposium at Texas A&M University. The symposium provided these award winning families with opportunities to share their stories and philosophies of land management and conservation with other landowners and students. Discussion topics, which affected all of the landowners regardless of their geographic location, ranged from conservation easements to death taxes, from private property rights to carbon credits, and from ethics to water.
    The discussion was robust, and, I think, went a long way in advancing the idea of a land ethic in agriculture. We plan to repeat the symposium in another location in 2010.  Until then we will continue to seek out and recognize those families who understand that conservation has a rightful place in agriculture.
    The Leopold Conservation Award honors those who are doing “good work.” By shining a bright light on an individual or family’s accomplishments each year, we also recognize the good work of all of the families in Wyoming and nationwide whose love and dedication for the land goes, all too often, unnoticed.
    As a reader of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, you likely know someone who deserves to be recognized in this manner. I ask that you take the time to honor their good work by nominating them for a Leopold Conservation Award in 2009. You will be doing your part to ensure that agricultural and environmental success continues to flourish in Wyoming.
    Dr. Brent Haglund is President of Sand County Foundation.